The Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers meet on Thursday in the final preseason game for both teams. The Steelers and Panthers are both hoping for fresh starts in the upcoming season after disappointing 2012 campaigns, but continue to deal with lingering issues on both sides of the ball with the season just one week away.
Meet the Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers are looking to come out of the preseason on a positive note, having dropped the first three games of the exhibition season after a mediocre 8-8 season in 2012. It was an uncharacteristic step back for the organization and one that might not be corrected right away, especially if the offense continues to struggle like it did last season.
The biggest concern is the offensive line, with a pair of underwhelming tackles in charge of keeping Ben Roethlisberger upright and healthy. The importance of the passing game cannot be understated, as a struggling run game didn't upgrade much in the offseason after finishing 31st in rushing yards per game last season (only Tampa Bay was worse).
Meet the Panthers
The Carolina Panthers still have a couple of important questions that need answering, especially when it comes to the lack of success of the offense so far in the preseason. It's unknown if Cam Newton will suit up in the final preseason game like he did last year, but changes on the offensive line may mean the first team will get another series or two to work on their chemistry.
Local Takes: Steelers
Dale Grdnic of Behind The Steel Curtain looks ahead to the final preseason game and what it means for the experience of several important rookies:
And with nine first-year players or rookies among the Steelers two-deep list, there can be no doubt that the club will be much younger this season. The starters alone have six players who are third-year pros or less, so even though there are also six starters with at least 10 years experience in the NFL, there is a youth movement on the Steelers.
This has to be a good thing, right? If not for this season, which I'm certainly not writing off -- unless there are major injuries to some of those veterans -- but for the future. History has shown that the Steelers have had difficulty replacing their aging stars, but maybe this group has gotten a jump on the process.
Local Takes: Panthers
NSpicer of Cat Scratch Reader says the Panthers are still a work-in-progress when it comes to the rebuild and points to the offensive line as one of the major issues still needing to be addressed:
The most glaring issue Gettleman has yet to address is the offensive line...i.e., the corollary to the hog-mollie philosophy he already brought to the defensive line. It's clear that he has an end-goal in mind. After all, he spent a 4th round pick on the high-risk potential of a small school OL in Edmund Kubila. And, he somewhat surprisingly did a bit of housecleaning as he released long-time Panther Geoff Hangartner...aka, "Piggy"...proof that even a nickname like that doesn't automatically make you a hog-mollie in Gettleman's eyes. Yet, Kubila's hamstring injury has now officially landed him on injured reserve. So, that "project" is going to take another year to pan out for him. In the meantime, Jordan Gross isn't getting any younger. Ryan Kalil is coming off a season which saw his first significant injury. And, Amini Silatolu, Byron Bell, and even Gary Williams are still wrestling with how much they can realistically contribute to the line's overall success.
Follow the Fun
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
My Final Panthers 53 Man Roster Prediction...tell me what you think http://t.co/KqqgvtYEA4— Cat Scratch Reader (@CatScratchReadr) August 29, 2013
@arobinson_Trib - Steelers beat reporter
Is there a preseason rivalry more treasured than Carolina vs. Pittsburgh? #steelers— Alan Robinson (@arobinson_Trib) August 27, 2013
@josephperson - Panther beat reporter
I would think Panthers want to keep Adams around as a returner. Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon both are free agents next year.— Joe Person (@josephperson) August 28, 2013
The Panthers are favorites by 3 1/2 points in the final preseason game, according to OddsShark.com.